Lawyers for Human Rights wins landmark decision against Department of Home Affairs and ACSA

Date: 01/01/2002

Lawyers for Human Rights won a landmark case against the Department of Home Affairs and the Airports Company of South Africa (ACSA) yesterday. LHR approached the court yesterday in an attempt to prevent the Australian authorities from deporting a political asylum seeker from Australia via South Africa to a country where he fears persecution and torture and to allow its client to apply for asylum in South Africa.

Jacques Katambayi fled war-ravaged DRC after being forced to join the army. Mindful of the cruel penalties for desertion Katambayi fled to Australia, who is signatory to the United Nations Refugee Convention, where he applied for asylum. The Australian government, who were recently criticized by international human rights groups for their harsh policies towards refugees, rejected Katambayi’s asylum claim and ordered his deportation via SA. Katambayi arrived on Saturday afternoon at Johannesburg International and was scheduled on the first flight to the DRC the following day.

The Department of Home Affairs and ACSA also refused to allow LHR and its lawyers to consult with Mr. Katambayi. In his judgment Judge Malan granted an interdict that prevents the Australian and South African authorities from further deporting Katambayi to the DRC. The judgment further orders the Department of Home Affairs to allow Katambayi to apply for asylum in South Africa and granted LHR the right to consult with their client where he is held in detention at the airport. The decision furthermore makes the current policy of Home Affairs of unlawful “The judgment is crucial in that it recognizes the right of asylum seekers to apply for asylum – even when they are held in the transit area of an international airport. Refugees are often deported back to countries where their lives were in danger by the South African authorities. It further compels the South African government to fulfill its constitutional obligation to prevent the cruel and inhuman treatment of refugees and to respect asylum seekers’ right to legal representation.” said Jacob van Garderen from the Refugee Rights Project at Lawyers for Human Rights.

This is the third time in the past year that LHR has successfully challenged the South African government’s restrictive asylum policies. Last year the organization forced Home Affairs to withdraw it controversial “safe third country” which effectively prohibits asylum seekers and refugees, who are considered to have transited a “safe” neighbouring country, from entering South Africa for purposes of making an asylum application

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